+St. Evaristus+

(Please see the response to attacks on this blog post in the Addendum of Oct. 27.)

Comments on the last blog on marriage woes have become numerous and so it seems more practical to publish a second article to address these observations. Excerpts from the comments submitted particularly by one reader below will be followed by my response.

Reader: “…The issue here is not whether spouses in unhappy marriages such as those you mention can leave their husbands or wives when tension reaches a high level. The issue is whether they can walk away and marry again. In sad cases of serious and irreparable division, the Church has always approved separation. One does not need to have studied specific canon laws to know of the Church’s mercy and realism on this point.”

Response: Here you are presuming that the marriage was validly contracted and that the spouses can possibly reconcile their differences in the future. Of course the Church has always allowed separation; this should go without saying. But we are not just talking about tensions here, but very real moral and spiritual calamities — including possible loss of faith — that afflict many of those believing themselves to be validly married. As another reader has also pointed out, the very fact that such calamities occur, that there are “irreparable divisions,” is only backhanded proof that the graces that should have been received in a Catholic sacramental union were never received; the marriage was not valid, hence not sacramental. The Church’s “mercy and realism” extends to the sacramental reality of things, don’t you think?

The entire conception of marriage as a sacrament has been lost. Also lost is the very serious obligation the Church has to regulate these marriages among her validly baptized children and determine their conformity to Divine law. She does this by issuing laws. In his Mystici Corporis, Pope Pius XII makes it a condition of Church membership to be subject to these laws. He writes in another address: “Clerics and laity may not exempt themselves from this discipline; rather all should be concerned to obey it…” (The Church and its Powers of Sanctifying and Ruling, Nov. 2, 1954).  Perhaps in the past there were lawful pastors to explain the laws regarding marriage, but we no longer enjoy that luxury. So do we educate ourselves or rush blindly into a vocation that binds us for life? Without the graces we need to fulfill our state in life, how can we possibly hope to be worthy spouses, parents, grandparents? The Church determines — and has the strict RIGHT to determine — when those graces are received, because Our Lord Jesus Christ is the dispenser of those precious graces!

The chain of Divine jurisdiction established by Christ, flowing from the pope to the bishops and finally to the priests by way of delegation, is the unquestionable guarantee that these graces are rightly received. As proven elsewhere on this site, unless this chain is maintained in all the sacraments, save that of emergency baptism (and in exceptional cases marriage, which is a natural right), the sacrament is not valid simply because the Church, commissioned by Christ to bind and loose, says it is not valid. It was presumed even in Can. 1098 marriages that whenever possible those marriages would later be blessed by the proper parish or missionary priest and entered into the parish register.

Reader: “But you seem to be suggesting that through inculpable ignorance regarding what appears to be a legalism, a person who has enough devotion to the Church to seek to marry within it can watch a spouse, or presumed spouse, not only leave, but act as if the marriage never took place and seek a new spouse. Is this truly just? It seems so pharisaical.”

Response: First let’s address inculpable ignorance. This is something that must be proven to exist, not assumed. The 19th century Scottish bishop, George. Hay, in his classic work The Sincere Christian sets down the requirements for the existence of invincible ignorance: “For one to be in invincible ignorance it is required that he be sincerely resolved to embrace the truth wherever he may find it and whatever it may cost him.  For if he be not fully resolved to follow the will of God, wherever it shall appear to him, in all things necessary to salvation; if on the contrary, he be so disposed that he would rather neglect his duty and hazard his soul than correct an ill custom, or disoblige his friends, or expose himself to some temporal loss or disadvantage…Such a disposition must be highly displeasing to God and an ignorance arising from it can never excuse him before his Creator… He must sincerely use his best endeavors to know his duty, and particularly that he recommend that matter earnestly to Almighty God, and pray for light and direction.

For whatever desire he may pretend of knowing the truth, if he does not use the proper means for finding it, it is manifest that his ignorance is not invincible but voluntary; for ignorance is only invincible when one has a sincere desire to know the truth with a full resolution to embrace it, but either has no possible means of knowing it or, after using his best endeavors to know it, yet cannot find it.” When these standards are applied, I think it is clear that many do not qualify as inculpable. The means to dispel this ignorance have existed since the 1980s. Few use their best endeavors to find it, in my experience anyway. They will research a million things on the Internet, but not this. The problem here is not whether they were ignorant but whether they were Catholic. Those marrying in Traditionalist sects are schismatics. Until they leave those sects and renounce them they cannot be considered to have married in the Church.

Secondly, we proceed to “what appears to be legalism,” but, when examined more closely, is really the veiled practice of liberal Catholicism. I object to the term legalism because it is a common accusation made by Traditionalists. Wikipedia defines it as: “…A usually pejorative term [pejorative meaning it is used to deprecate or demean] referring to an over-emphasis on discipline of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying an allegation of misguided rigour, pride, superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law at the expense of the spirit.” We will address the last sentence here because it explains everything we really need to know about legalism.

In an article printed in the May 1965 edition of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review by one Fr. Robert G. Wesselmann, J.C.L., (“Canon Law: Criticisms and Reactions”). Wesselmann begins by saying: “When Pope John XXIII announced plans for an Ecumenical Council in 1959, he immediately indicated that one goal would be revision of the Code of Canon Law. At first canonists thought of revision merely in terms of tidying up the present Code — eliminating inconsistencies in terminology, incorporating laws enacted since 1917 and changing a few specific laws…in accordance with Conciliar decrees. Now even canonists are having second thoughts about the place of law in the mission of the Church.”

Wesselmann effectively dilutes all authority of the hierarchy in the Church, pretending the laity are able and qualified to decide for themselves on moral matters without the strictures of “legalism.” He writes: “Canon Law must be partially blamed, at least by defect, for the legalism which the liturgists decry… To be able to do away with the present system, we would need greater emphasis on equity (justice tempered by fairness, moderation, mercy) in enacting and enforcing laws and more frequent exercise of the virtue of epikeia by the subjects of the law…For the subjects of law, it means willingness to apply the law in concrete circumstances, not according to its letter but according to its spirit…” He wishes to leave the determination of this “equity” to the average layperson and encourages “the rejection of constant readiness to place any and every perplexity before one’s superiors…The present penal section of the Code…is needlessly complicated and might be virtually abolished,” as it was in effect when the 1983 Code of Canon Law was issued.

So cries of legalism can be directly traced to the liturgical renewal crowd that led to the institution of the Novus Ordo and to Traditionalists and their adulation of epikeia! Isn’t this ample proof that both these two organizations are really just two sides of the same coin? They have been very clever in obscuring the many things they have in common with the Novus Ordo, in order to appear to be the perpetual foes of the anti-Church. So this may come as a surprise to those who are not aware of the extent of Traditionalists’ true affinity with the church in Rome.

Thirdly, many Traditionalists over the years have tried to label those insisting that Canon Law is binding on the faithful as Pharisees. They feel that upholding the law and advocating for its strict application in our present circumstances seems unjust. But the term pharisaical is often misapplied because it is misunderstood. Christ explains this while addressing the Pharisees as follows: “…You have made void the commandment of God for your tradition. Hypocrites, well did Isaias prophesy of you, saying, ‘This people honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.’ But in vain they do worship me, teaching doctrines and the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:7-9). That the Hebrews of Jesus’ time truly believed their elders’ teachings were at least equal to the Scriptures is confirmed by the later comments of Jewish rabbis on the Talmud: “The Scriptures are water; the Mishnah, wine; but the Gemara, spiced wine.”

Rev. Leo Haydock comments: “The Pharisees pretended the greatest exactitude even in the smallest commands of the law, when the observance of them could impress the people with a favorable idea of their sanctity; whereas they omitted the more essential precepts of the law, when it did not incur them the praise of men.” The Catholic Encyclopedia notes: “Together with the Pharisees they are represented in the Gospels as being very ambitious of honour (Matthew 23:2-7, Mark 12:38-40; Luke 11:43, 45, 46; 20:46), and as making void the weightier precepts of the Law by their perverse interpretations by means of which they had gradually laid a most heavy burden upon the people. They are also rebuked by Christ because of the undue importance ascribed by them to the ‘traditions of the elders.’” Therefore the Pharisees were following their OWN laws, not God’s laws, as Christ Himself notes above. Likewise, Traditionalists take it upon themselves to basically dismiss Canon Law, relying on their own interpretations rather than those of the lawgiver as the law demands. This negates all they do under Pope Pius XII’s Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis, governing interregnums.

Reader: “All unloved spouses in some sense suffer for the glory of the institution of marriage, which though it may bring extraordinary suffering to some brings happiness, security and well-being to many more… To the Catholic, who does not equate happiness with an absence of pain, it can be very consoling.”

“Unfortunately, we live in a world where because of a high degree of social isolation and the easy availability of divorce, the unspoken traditions that once guided people, the strategies by which a lack of companionship or love in marriage could be overcome by building separate, independent lives and friendships while remaining together, have been largely lost. There is now simply one solution and that is ending the marriage and looking to establish a new one.”

Response: It IS a privilege indeed to suffer for the glory of the institution of marriage provided it is a valid marriage. Would any of these Catholics have consented to be married had they known that the person presumably performing the marriage could not officially witness the conveying of the necessary graces and was not acting validly? I hardly think so. IF someone sees that praying at home is their only option today and realize that they did not marry validly before a lawful pastor, it is easily remedied under Can. 1098. If they adopt the pray-at-home position, and truly wish to live a Catholic life but are needlessly suffering under intolerable obstacles to their faith and mental well-being, then they cannot be and must not be seen as “walking out on their marriage,” when the Church says it was never a marriage to begin with. Nor should this necessarily be done with the intent to find a new husband or wife, although this cannot be excluded. They are free to marry, but in this wicked world, finding a new partner and starting over is a very daunting task, a task that some today choose not to pursue. Still, the Church considers marriage preferable to the sins of impurity that could result, especially among those prone to such sins.

Catholic couples have a RIGHT to receive matrimonial graces

Provided that the Church’s laws governing marriage are followed, those contracting marriage confer the graces of the Sacrament on each other. The Church has the strict right to determine the binding nature of these laws. In a 1946 address entered under Can. 2314 on freedom of conscience and the objects of judicial jurisdiction (Canon Law Digest, Vol. III), Pope Pius XII wrote the following on the hardships facing married couples following WWII: “What a degree of courage, of self-denial, of patience; what a treasure of loving mutual trust, what a spirit of Christian faith were required in order to keep intact their plighted faith… The motherly heart of the Church bleeds at the sight of the unspeakable anguish of so many of her children. To come to their aid, She spares no effort and carries her condescension to its extreme limit. This extreme limit is solemnly formulated in Canon 1118 of the Code of Canon Law: ‘Marriage which is sacramental and consummated cannot be dissolved by any human power nor by any cause save death.’”

Note above the word sacramental. Who alone were able to (administer or) witness the Sacraments? Those who can be rightly identified, of course, as lawful pastors, rightly commissioned by the Church as such. Does the Church consider marriages between Catholics, (or where one party is Catholic at least), by one not delegated by the Church sacramental? Not according to Can. 1094. Therefore even if consummated, it is still not considered valid. And this same Canon offers the exception of Canon 1098. But how could Can. 1098 be invoked unless one first realized there are no lawful pastors left and they must invoke it? It cannot take effect automatically while the parties still remain outside the Church! Since Novus Ordo and Traditionalist pseudo- clergy and followers cannot validly convey sacraments, how could such a marriage be sacramental? One is either within the Church and obeys Her laws or they are not. Those wishing to be truly Catholic have a strict right to receive the graces issuing from a valid matrimonial contract, valid as defined by the Church. This we learn from Richard Cardinal Cushing:

“Matrimony is a sacrament which a priest cannot administer. At the marriage ceremony he is merely the authorizing witness. The bride and groom are the ministers of the Sacrament. Since the groom confers the Sacrament on the bride, the first gift he gives her as his wife is an increase of sanctifying grace which is the greatest gift even an omnipotent God Himself can give, and so the bride to the groom. Such a gift is infinitely more precious than the most expensive watch or ring. When God instituted marriage, He had a twofold purpose: the propagation and education of children and the mutual help and comfort of man and woman in their closely associated life. To achieve that purpose steadily through a lifetime together the husband and wife need direct and immediate help from God. The effect of the sacrament is not just for a day. It is for a lifetime. God stands ready to give that help. When the couple receives the sacrament, they receive a title or right to the following actual graces.

  1. To fulfill God’s law with regard to the conception and birth of children.
  2. To enjoy the pleasures and to carry the burdens of married life in a holy way.
  3. To cherish each other and to grow in the love of each other, putting up with the inevitable defects that exist in every human being.
  4. To bring up the children in a way worthy of their human nature and worthy, too, of their supernatural destiny.

“Throughout their lives husband and wife, who later become father and mother, are continually helped by God with actual graces which come to them as their due because of a sacrament with which they sealed the very beginning of their united lives. In a very real sense, the sacrament makes them each to each and they and the children, each to each, ‘keepsakes for heaven’”. The Sacraments: 7 Channels of Grace for Every State in Life; published by the Daughters of Saint Paul). Those, then, who never received these graces, have a right now to receive them, for married couples today need them more now than ever before.


We are children of Holy Mother Church. When Mother says no, you cannot marry before anyone but a lawful pastor if you wish to be married validly, we respect Her and we obey. When the Pope tells us, in an infallible decree, (Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis), how we must behave during times when we have no pope, (an interregnum), we obey. If he orders that during such a time none of the laws of the Church may be changed, and if changed, the changes are null and void, we give a firm and irrevocable assent to what he teaches. Any attempt then to change those laws or violate the rights of the Church by invoking epikeia (or accepting as valid men who were never approved by the pope for consecration as bishops, another stipulation in this decree) we must consider such things as never having occurred. The laws of the Church today stand just as they stood on the death of Pope Pius XII; his intent as the supreme lawgiver is perfectly clear. We have no right to consider these laws unjust or question them in any way. Not, that is, if we wish to remain Catholic.

Matrimony is a beautiful Sacrament in which two people give themselves to each other exclusively and wholly, until these bonds are dissolved by death. To employ a Traditional or independent priest of whatever degree of presumed holiness or spiritual friendship to “bless” such a marriage and act as witness could actually be a curse on future married life. In these unprecedented times we must obey God not men, as Christ tells us that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. He commands us not to allow entry to the hireling, and to run from false shepherds. Ask Our Lord and His Blessed Mother, also those married saints to whom you are devoted, to bless your marriage. Refrain from breaking God’s laws, and such blessings will be given you in abundance.


“Your article is a grave attack on Catholic marriages!”

So wails the anti-Canon Law crowd that just “liked” the article on the need to obey Canon Law (?) They cite nary one canon in their favor, no papal or conciliar documents, not even theological opinions. But they believe they have the right to disagree, to snipe, even to condemn. Canon Law and scholastic theology require proofs to establish a credible argument, but this is apparently not something they feel obligated to do. Let them prove Traditionalists and some Novus Ordoites were never baptized; that they are not at least material heretics and schismatics and that therefore Can. 1094 does not apply to them. Maybe then their objections would make more sense. Ah, but they have no answer to this either, no proofs. They apparently love to argue, so perhaps they would like to take on the pope, or the Roman Rota below.

Anyone who reads this site knows that we have long considered Traditional pseudo-clerics and their followers schismatic. Schismatics are those certainly baptized in the Catholic faith who publicly joined a non-Catholic sect; they are no longer members of the Church according to Canons 2200 and 2314. They are not only schismatics but are at least material heretics for their denial of the necessity of the papacy. Material heretics are considered as outside the Church until their cases can be decided by the proper authorities (Can. 2200; Rev. Adolphe Tanquerey, others). So according to Pope St. Pius X and Pope Pius XII’s reinstatement of his Ne Temere decree, the marriages of lapsed Catholics and schismatics must be conducted according to the canonical form, which in the past was by a lawful pastor delegated to act as an authoritative witness in such marriages, (but in his absence today, the canonical form can only be Can. 1098). Novus Ordo sectarians and Traditionalists are married under neither.

Canon 1098 must be interpreted strictly since it is an exception to the law. We read under Can. 1098 in the Canon Law Digest, Vol. II: “Canon 1098 contains an exception to the law and is therefore subject to strict interpretation according to Canon 19; that is, the existence of the condition required for its application must be strictly proved in the exterior forum” (Roman Rota, July 29, 1926). How do you strictly prove the intent to invoke Can. 1098 when a Traditionalist or Novus Ordo couple thinks the marriage ceremony itself is a valid act??? In another decision, the Roman Rota made an important distinction between the “belief” of the Catholic parties in one case that an authorized priest was not available and the actual fact that he indeed was available, declaring the marriage invalid (Jan. 30, 1926; Ibid). The belief of lay Traditionalists that they can only marry validly if married by a pseudo-cleric in the alleged continuation of what they believe to be the Catholic Church is similar. It does not correspond to the actual facts, that is, they could only use Can. 1098.

Revs. Woywod-Smith comment on Can. 1099 §2: “Beginning with January 1, 1949, …marriages [of Catholics baptized in the Catholic Church] even with non-Catholics will be invalid unless the canonical form of marriage is observed. Their marriages contracted on or after that date without observing the canonical form are clandestine in the same way as the marriages of those mentioned in Canon 1099 §1 when contracted with defective form. When therefore their validity is attacked, the case is to be resolved by the ordinary or even the pastor in consultation with the ordinary. Non-Catholics baptized and unbaptized are exempt from the Catholic form of marriage whenever they marry persons similarly not bound by it. Catholics who at an adult age have fallen away from the Church either by joining a non-Catholic sect or rejecting all religious creeds according to Canon 1099 §1, #1 ARE NOT EXEMPT FROM THE CATHOLIC FORM OF MARRIAGE when they marry other lapsed Catholics or Protestants or unbaptized persons… Pope Pius XII abrogated paragraph two of Canon 1099, formerly excluding the children of lapsed Catholics and apostates form the necessity of of observing the canonical form, to now include them:The children of lapsed or apostate Catholics… if, though baptized in the Catholic Church they were reared outside the faith from infancy …are now [also] bound to the Catholic canonical form of marriage” (A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, 1957). This applies to nearly all Traditionalists and those in the Novus Ordo.

So if as pray-at home Catholics we believe validly baptized Traditionalists are schismatic, (and Canon Law teaches that they are), they also are bound by the proper canonical form to marry. Therefore, we can only say that their marriages before one who was not a lawful pastor were invalid and Can.1098 was never invoked; this is precisely what the Church teaches. And Canons 1133 and 1134 further state: “To validate a marriage which is invalid …the renewal of consent is required by ecclesiastical law for the validation of the marriage even though in the beginning both parties gave their consent and have not revoked it since (Can. 1133). The renewal of consent must be a new act of the will for a marriage that is known to have been invalid from the beginning” (Can. 1134).

This is all that is required by those returning from heresy and schism who do not wish to contest the marriage. Certainly, it is by far the preferred route to go. But given the Church’s clear teaching on this subject, who can fault one who for very serious reasons holds the marriage invalid? Let the Church, if it is ever restored to us, be the judge of this, not those who contest Her laws. I am confident a future pope would never fault anyone for strictly upholding Canon Law, which by infallible decree cannot be changed or discounted during an interregnum.


Exemption of “ab Acatholicis Nati” Abrogated (Pius XII, 1948) Motu proprio,1 Aug.,

(Canon Law Digest, Vol. III, Pgs. 463-64)

This Motu proprio, entitled “Abrogatur Alterum Comma Paragraphi Secundae Canonis 1099,” is as follows: The Decree, Ne temere, issued by order of Our Predecessor of happy memory, Pius X, had provided (art. XI) that all persons baptized in the Catholic Church, even if they had afterward fallen away from it, were bound to observe the form of marriage prescribed in the Council of Trent. However, as regards persons born of non-Catholics and baptized in the Catholic Church, who from infancy had grown up in heresy or schism or infidelity or without any religion, lest their marriages should be null, it was provided in the Code of Canon Law that baptized persons of this class are not bound to observe the canonical form of marriage. But the experience of thirty years has sufficiently shown that the exemption from observing the canonical form of marriage, which was given to this class of persons baptized in the Catholic Church, has not conduced to the good of souls, and has moreover very frequently multiplied difficulties in the solution of cases; wherefore We have deemed it expedient that this exemption be revoked.

Accordingly, after hearing from the Eminent Fathers of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, We of Our own motion and out of the fullness of Apostolic power, decree and provide that all persons baptized in the Catholic Church are bound to observe the canonical form of marriage; and We therefore abrogate the second clause of paragraph 2 of canon 1099, and order that the words, “item ab acatholicis nati, etsi in Ecclesia catholica baptizati, qui ab infantili aetate in haeresi uel schismate aut infidelitate aut sine ulla religione adoleverunt, quoties cum parte acatholica contraxerint,” be expunged from canon 1099. And We take this occasion to admonish missionaries and priests to observe most carefully the provisions of canons 750-751. We therefore order that this Apostolic Letter given of Our own motion be reported in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, and We decree that its provisions shall go into effect from the first day of January, 1949. All things to the contrary, even such as are worthy of special mention, notwithstanding.

Given from Castel Gandolfo near Rome, the first day of August, Feast of Saint Peter in Chains, in the year nineteen hundred and forty-eight, the tenth of Our Pontificate.

AAS 40–305; Pius XII, Motu proprio, 1 Aug., 1948. Periodica, 37-334 (Creusen).

Motu proprio, 1 Aug., 1948. Periodica, 37-334 (Creusen).


NOTE: Confusion on this matter may be arising if those consulting Canon Law to check the above are referencing these topics in Canon Law texts written before Aug. 1, 1948. Regardless of whether Traditionalists are considered schismatic or simply non-Catholic, their baptisms are considered valid, according to the canonists Revs. Woywod-Smith and Bouscaren-Ellis; also in later decisions by the Holy Office and the Rota. A decision issued by the Holy Office in December 1949 reads: “Regarding the validity of baptism in certain sects… Whether, in adjudicating matrimonial cases baptism conferred in the sects of the Disciples of Christ, the Presbyterians, the Congregationalists, the Baptists and Methodists, where necessary matter and form were used, is to be presumed invalid, the Holy Office replies: “In the negative.” And to the question as to whether there is doubt “regarding the intention of the minister in certain cases, whether they are to be considered valid unless the contrary is proved in the particular case,” the Holy Office declared: “In the affirmative.” (Canon Law Digest, Vol. III, AAS 41-650).

So either way, even in doubt, these baptisms are to be considered valid. Bouscaren-Ellis comment on doubtful baptism under Can. 1070: “The case is obvious where a child is presented to a Catholic priest to be baptized or where an adult receives formal baptism in the Catholic Church… The fact that a person baptized in the Catholic Church afterward abandoned it would not exempt him from this law regarding the form of marriage… [In the case of]  two Catholics, even though doubt exists as to the validity of the baptism of one of them, the presumption in favor of baptism agrees with the favor of marriage.” Woywod-Smith extends this presumption of validity to lay baptisms as well.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email